The Pagan Path

Those who wonder are not lost; they are trying to awaken! 'The Sleeper must awaken!'

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Temptations of Jesus

Is 'Satan' Real?

Not having researched this much lately, but having done so in the past, I can say, with some certainty, that there is quite a bit of information out there, on both ends of the spectrum, about whether or not our adversary is a real, though supernatural ( spirit ) being ! Having, as well, written a bit on the subject myself, I will simply refer my readers to a previous article that I wrote a few years ago.

As this is probably one of the most controversial passages in the Gospels when it comes to showing how the ( Scriptural ) adversary or tempter was simply either the first-century Judaizers or ones own ( adamic ) nature; the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, recorded in Matthew 4:1-11, and Mark 1:12 & 13, will be our primary focus in this study. You may find, as we have in the past, that most, if not all Scriptural references to this adversary are of a natural ( human ) one, and that when referring to a super-natural being, as has been pointed out, are God, or Yahweh Himself!

Comments have been made to this notion that implying that these famous passages refer to anything but a supernatural occurrence are akin to saying that Jesus was being tempted by His own ( human ) nature! Though this may not be out of the question ( a horrifying, not to mention heretical idea to most ); this is not the point of the Gospel's relation.

We must remember that, while we can glean certain universal truths from the Gospels, they were primarily about the Revelation of Jesus as the true King of Israel, and the Good News of the establishment of His Kingdom! One can ascertain from even a cursory study of the Hebrew ( Old Testament ) Scriptures, that every good king of Israel underwent, in different ways and at different times, a temptation, one which either strengthened or weakened his kingdom. This King was no different! But He was different! This King, unlike all the previous kings of Israel, was not just another Man; He was also the Son of God, and thus had the ability to withstand these temptations!

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 
 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts.
And the angels ministered to Him.
Mark 1:12 & 13

Matthew's account agrees with Mark's, but for some reason, Matthew goes into more detail. Most familiarly, this account is known as 'the temptation in the wilderness', although by Matthew's account, not every one of the three temptations takes place in the actual desolation of the wilderness. This should be noted as significant, as well as the symbolic period of Jesus' ( forced? ) fast. Keep in mind that God, through the prophet Hosea, said 'out of Egypt I called My son' ( Hosea 11:1b ( Matthew 2:15 ); remember that they too, were consigned to the wilderness for a symbolic, though no doubt actual period as well. As Israel was led by the Spirit through the wilderness for forty years, fed with Manna from heaven, so the Son of God was driven by the spirit, without bread or water, to undergo His temptation, as the true Israel of Hosea's prophecy. As the true King of Israel, Jesus underwent this temptation, just as every other king of Israel faced his own temptation. There is one noticeable difference, though, in the outcomes of these temptations, because Jesus was not just the Son of Man; He was the Son of God!

If you are at all familiar with my musings, you will remember, hopefully, that this word 'satan' in the Hebrew, simply means 'adversary'. It is the English translators who have assigned this name to some supernatural spirit-being that has set himself up against his Creator. About this creature, the apostle Paul wrote that  he 'transforms himself into an angel of light' ( II Corinthians 11:14 ). We must remember, even here though, that 'angel' simply means 'messenger'!

The 'adversary' that the first-century church faced was, first of all, the Jews, or Judaizers, those who opposed the truth that their history was significant of His story, and was simply meant, as Paul also wrote, as a tutor to [ bring them to ] Christ. To say that Matthew's account of the temptation in the wilderness is a metaphorically told ( not unheard of in Eastern literature ) history of the event is to most, almost blasphemous. 'The Bible even says that it was the 'devil', you might hear! Here's where a passing knowledge of the metaphorical and symbolic ( hyperbolic ) nature of the literature of the Ancient Near East comes in handy, as well. Even today, in our western culture, mere men are often referred to as 'devils' or 'demons'; much moreso, I believe, in Eastern cultures!

To use Matthew 4 and Mark 1 as proof of the existence of this supposed arch-enemy of God is to miss the whole point of the story! That Jesus was driven ( think Genesis 3 ) into the wilderness to endure His temptation ( which incidentally, follows almost exactly John's list in I John 2:16 ), should immediately remind us of how God led His beloved son, Israel, out of Egypt and through the wilderness prior to entering His promised land of rest. The temptations that Jesus overcame during His period of testing were not unlike the temptations to which the children of Israel succumbed to ( repeatedly ) during their wanderings.

Going out on a limb here; the point of the Gospel writer's references to 'satan', the 'devil', or 'demons' was not to prove the existence of some supernatural spirit-being, or even to acknowledge such an existence; it was to remind that 'generation' ( Matthew 24:34, et al. ) of their own history, how they had acted as 'satans', 'devils' and 'demons' throughout that history, and especially how they, in a much worse way than Peter ( Matthew 16:23 ), were the personification of the 'Satan' that they themselves feared!

Again; 'is 'satan' real?'

Yes and ( resoundingly ) 'NO'! As the ( corporate ) adversary of God's people, the Jews, those who didn't accept their Messiah, anyway, were destroyed in the first century, and their ascendancy was removed with the destruction of their Temple in 70AD. Are there still adversaries ( satans ) to the people of God? In actuality, we face many temptations ( James 4:1 ), although in reality, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, those temptations are not adversarial in the sense of those in the first century.

If you have ever read the deutero-canonical book of Tobit, you may see a glimpse of how steeped the Jewish and Near Eastern culture was in that kind of lore, and then, as I remember, reading all of the Greek mythologies ( which were often 'tall tales' based in reality, more or less ), you may begin to piece together an explanation of how we got our Bible, with its frightening pictures and stories of supernatural spirit-beings like devils and demons. Some of the stories that are related in the Scripture, the demons entering the herd of swine, for instance ( Matthew 8:28-34 ) may seem just as hard, or even harder to explain as anything but supernatural occurrences, but a basic knowledge of that sort of literature ( ANE ), together with the knowledge and understanding that much of what we read in our Bibles is based on a faulty or poor translation of the original tongues, it is not really that much of a stretch to assert these events as more or less natural and eschatological in nature.

In conclusion, then, when reading of 'the temptations of Jesus', whether you are tempted to believe that He was tested by His own humanity, that He was opposed by some Pharasaical Jews, or whether this was a supernatural event; to focus on any of these possibilities is, as we saw, to miss the whole point! We must not miss the point of this story if we are to understand THE Story, His Story! It is a story in which we take part, usually on a daily basis, and because of Jesus' Reversal of the Curse, we too overcome temptations, those adversaries that we face everyday!

Because we have become the New Temple, the Throne, and the Chariot of God, we have the Power!

Charles Haddon Shank

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